Tag Archives: pulp heroes

IN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904): LIKE A FORERUNNER OF INDIANA JONES

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buckIN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904) by Robert W Chambers. Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined Chambers’ underrated horror classic The King in Yellow. The work we’re looking at this time around is a collection of short stories about Gilland the Zoologist. Gilland was a forerunner of the real-life Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and the fictional Indiana Jones.

Our daring hero worked for the Bronx Zoological Gardens and was frequently dispatched by Professor Farrago to try to bring in dangerous crypto-zoological specimens or disprove their existence if they were hoaxes. The stories in this volume:

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-2I. THE HARBOR MASTER – Gilland is sent north to Hudson Bay where a Harbor Master has reported capturing a pair of Great Auks, flightless birds which went extinct in the mid-1800s. The two-fisted scholar finds the Great Auks are for real but the Harbor Master harbors (see what I did there) a sinister secret.

This story also features the Harbor Master’s beautiful secretary, who naturally catches Gilland’s eye, and a gilled merman (shades of Creature From The Black Lagoon), who wants to mate with the lovely lady himself. Gilland’s not having it, of course, and must do battle with the creature.  

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-3II. IN QUEST OF THE DINGUE – The Graham Glacier melts, unleashing a number of animals from species that were long thought extinct. Among the crowd of academics converging on the unexplored area are Gilland and Professor Smawl. The Professor is a sexy, strong-willed female scholar that our hero has been forced to accompany into the region.

The battle of the sexes bickering flies like shrapnel as the pair encounter Woolly Mammoths and other creatures, find a primitive bell called a dingue and run afoul of a gigantic super-powered woman who calls herself the Spirit of the North. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN AND THE KINGS: LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

For Flashman Down Under and Flashman in the Opium War click HERE  Balladeer’s Blog moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.

Flashman for Flashman and the KingsProjected Title: FLASHMAN AND THE KINGS 

Time Period: The Taranaki War (1860-1861)

NOTE: The title refers to the Maori King Movement, which began during this period and whose descending line of a designated “King of Kings” has survived to this very day with the current Maori King in New Zealand.

From 1860-1861 the Maori Kings aka the Maori King Movement proved to be the most battle-savvy and politically shrewd opponents the British would face until the First Boer War of 1880-1881. If the native inhabitants of other regions around the world had been this proficient and coordinated, the Colonial Powers of the European and Muslim Empires might have been dealt such massive setbacks that the course of history would be fascinatingly different.    

The Set-Up: As of the finale of Fraser’s Flashman and the Dragon we readers were left guessing exactly what Harry was being dragged into by blonde, luscious Phoebe Carpenter and her husband.

New ZealandIn Flashman and the Dragon the Carpenters were shown to be smuggling guns to the Taipingi rebels in China, so my speculation would be that they were also involved in smuggling guns to the Maori forces in New Zealand. The Taranaki War had been raging between the Maori and British colonial troops since March of 1860.

The Carpenters had been posing as Christian Missionaries as cover for their smuggling operation in FATD so they might well have been using that same cover for their dealings with the Maori King Movement. Flashman’s standing as a storied, active duty British Colonel could be exploited to their advantage through their extortionate hold on our antihero.

FATD ended in October of 1860. The Taranaki War lasted until March 18th of 1861 so Harry could be on hand for the last several months of the conflict. As usual he might well end up with undeserved military honors from his misadventures, caught up in the martial action while striving to free himself from his entanglement with Phoebe and her husband.   

The Story:   Continue reading

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THE HAN SOLO OF THE 1930s: NORTHWEST SMITH

Northwest Smith

Northwest Smith

With the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters now what better time for my profile of the Han Solo of the 1930s. Female author C.L. Moore wrote a series of pulp adventures about her often neglected science fiction figure Northwest Smith.

THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.

THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.

Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN NOVELS: SIXTH PLACE

Alan Bates -better Flashman than MalcolmFor Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Reaction to my list of The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels continues to come in, with readers wanting more Flashman reviews. Here’s my take on the novel which would have been in sixth place if I had done a list of my Top Six Harry Flashman Novels.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light6. FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT (1990)

Time Period: The First Sikh War (1845-1846)

The Flashman Papers jump around to different periods of Harry Flashman’s life and this novel details our main character’s adventures following the events in Flashman’s Lady, published in 1977. Flashman’s Lady came in 3rd place in my rankings.

NOTE: The Mountain of Light of the novel’s title refers to the Koh-I-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) Diamond, which at the time belonged to the rulers of the Punjab in India and which features prominently in the story.  

Synopsis: Queen Victoria’s least trustworthy Cavalry Officer, Harry Paget Flashman, is once again in the thick of things. A series of false starts to an all-out war have set things dangerously on edge in the Punjab, with a potential bloodbath in the offing if one false move is made.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light 2Harry being Harry, he STILL manages to find time for a brief fling with the wife of a fellow British Officer before getting thrust into the line of fire. And into the schemes and political machinations of the real-life Maharani Jeendan, her brother Jawaheer, the British East India Company and a fanatical military sect called the Khalsa.

At the center of this tangled web, lurking like a thing alive, is the Koh-I-Noor Diamond, the Mountain of Light itself, passing from hand to hand – and in some cases navel to navel – while being coveted by nearly every figure in our story. Figures which include two American mercenaries who partially inspired Kipling’s tale of The Man Who Would Be King.   

The title and savage action of this Flashman novel certainly put one in mind of H. Rider Haggard’s writings but the story’s account of hedonism and political intrigues at the Punjab royal court in Lahore is more along the lines of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.

The deliciously decadent Maharani Jeendan is our protagonist’s main bedmate in his latest sword and sex adventure, followed closely by Mangla, the Maharani’s beautiful, calculating slave who had – as history confirms – engineered events to secretly become one of the wealthiest women of the Punjab despite her condition of servitude.     Continue reading

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REMEMBERING THE MOON MAN

The Moon Man

The Moon Man

THE MOON MAN – Created by Frederick C Davis, the Moon Man is, to me, the epitome of the campy but fascinating heroes the old 1930s pulp publications used to treat readers to, issue after issue. Operating in fictional Great City, the Moon Man not only waged war on the ruthless representatives of the criminal element, he also plundered their ill-gotten wealth from them and distributed it to the Great Depression-ravaged poor of the 1930s.

This not only made the hero a combination of the best elements of the Shadow and Robin Hood, but it also gave him a healthy dose of “Green Hornet appeal”, too, because, like the Hornet, the Moon Man was hunted by both the crooks AND the cops, doubling the danger for the  daring and resourceful figure every time he donned his costume and stalked the night-darkened streets.

That costume, by the way, is beloved by some fans for its hammy, campy, “pulpish” quality, but is just barely tolerated by others for the same reason. The Moon Man was armed with an automatic and dressed all in black, usually including a black cloak, and hid his face behind a round glass globe that covered his entire head.

The globe was made of one-way Argus glass, the glass Speakeasies used to use for their windows during Prohibition, so the customers inside could see anyone approaching the illegal boozery but cops approaching it would see only their reflection in the glass. Similarly the Moon Man could see out of the globe but people looking at him would see just the mirrored surface of the globe. The globe-headed aspect of the Moon Man’s outfit often annoys people who take pulps a little too seriously, but to me it adds to the old-fashioned fun. Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER FIVE

For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Flashman on the March5. FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH (2005)

Time Period: The 1867-1868 Abyssinian military campaign and rescue mission.

This volume of The Flashman Papers is set right after Harry’s unsuccessful attempt to spirit away Mexico’s overthrown Emperor Maximilian before he could be executed. (Well it wasn’t Flashman’s fault. As history tells us, Maximilian DID refuse to escape with the conspirators who busted in to save his sorry butt.)

Synopsis: After a passionate farewell kiss from (the real-life) Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, Harry Flashman further raises the ire of his Austrian escorts by seducing a young, blonde and buxom Hapsburg aristocrat on the trans-Atlantic voyage with Maximilian’s coffin.

In Trieste, with the Austrians planning to unleash their wrath on Flashman as soon as the ceremony for Maximilian is over, our main character bolts for the British consulate. HMG is happy to have Sir Harry on hand and entrusts him to escort the notorious 100,000 Maria Theresa Thalers being sent to finance General Robert Napier’s upcoming Abyssinian Expedition.   

Flashman on the March 2That expedition is being launched to free British captives being held and tortured by the (historically) unhinged Emperor Theodore II of Abyssinia (Called Ethiopia today). 

Before Colonel Flashman knows it he’s caught up in a clash with Muslim slavers on the Red Sea, then breezing right along to the Eritrean port of Zula, embarkation point for the British campaign into Abyssinia.  

The author George MacDonald Fraser’s descriptive talents were in top form in Flashman on the March. As fans well know, Fraser creates scenes in the reader’s mind that surpass the biggest-budgeted cinematic blockbusters.

This particular tale lets him fully unleash his genius for seeming to take his audience to faraway planets while never leaving the Earth. Abyssinia/ Ethiopia feels menacingly alien and its hostile terrain might as well be on an orbiting asteroid as we get dragged into deadly danger with the reluctant Flashman.   

Harry and his Royal Marine escorts eventually catch up with General Napier far inland, and even though our protagonist officially turns over the shipment of Thalers he is still at Napier’s mercy in terms of papers and transit orders home to England. 

With the British forces – complete with 44 war elephants from India – moving more slowly than anticipated, Napier decides to send Flashman on ahead of the main army.

Harry’s orders: a) to rescue the hostages by any means necessary if the opportunity presents itself, if not, then b) to covertly keep tabs on the location of the hostages in case the Emperor decides to take them even further inland and c) to feel out Theodore’s many enemies in the war-torn country and try to recruit ad hoc allies to prevent the Emperor’s army from escaping.   

Kevin Kline good FlashmanFlashman’s guide, translator and fellow warrior will be the beautiful Ethiopian woman Uliba-Wark, half-sister to the country’s Queen. Uliba-Wark has a small domain of her own and is up to her neck in Abyssinia’s countless political and sexual intrigues & rivalries.

A running battle on horseback which leaves Harry and the warlike beauty as the sole survivors enroute to her castle is just a hint of the wild bed and battle action that lays ahead.   Continue reading

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TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS: NUMBER THREE

For Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE 

For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click the above link.

Flashman's Lady3. FLASHMAN’S LADY (1977)

Time Period: 1842-1845

The Flashman Papers jump around to various periods in Ol’ Flash Harry’s life. This particular novel covers our scurvy protagonist’s bed and battle adventures following his triumphant return from the First Afghan War all the way up to his pivotal role in a neglected Anglo-French action.

Along the way he clashes with London gangsters, battles Borneo Pirates and becomes a sex-slave/ military aide to an infamous African Queen. 

Favorite Book Blurb: “Harry Flashman, that swashbuckling gremlin in the works of 19th Century history, is back in an around-the- world adventure that would turn Queen Victoria pale with shock and James Bond green with envy!”

NOTE: This novel is called Flashman’s Lady not just because of his beautiful blonde wife Elspeth’s larger than usual role but because excerpts from her diary complement Flashman’s memoirs in this tale. As all Flashman fans know, Elspeth cheats on Harry just as much as he cheats on her but his ego inevitably prompts him to half-believe the outrageous excuses she uses to cover her affairs. She outdoes herself in this story.  

Flashman's Lady 2Synopsis: As the story begins Harry Flashman is still enjoying War Hero status and converting that fame into easier access to the bedrooms of various ladies. Presently the scoundrel finds himself pressed into playing on a Cricket team with some of his former classmates from Rugby School in Warwickshire.

Everyone tactfully avoids mentioning Flashman’s expulsion for drunken misconduct years earlier and he agrees. Always as physically strong as he is morally weak, Harry shines as his team’s Bowler (Pitcher for us Yanks) and leads them to victory. 

That kicks off a successful run for Flashman playing Bowler in a series of those quasi-official, no-American-who-has-ever-lived-can-understand Cricket matches like you find in Raffles stories. Harry being Harry he also begins making side money shaving points and throwing games in league with some London gangsters. Continue reading

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